The Perfect Rhythm of English

You may have an author or a particular book you read a lot because you like it. Why? What is it about the book? The Characters, the story? If you don’t know, which may be the case, try to read it out loud. It may be the rhythm of the sentences. Here is the rhythm of beautiful English:

da DUM

da DUM

da DUM

da DUM

da DUM

This is the Iambic Pentameter 10 beets, unstressed syllable and stressed syllable. When we speak, our syllables are either stressed (stronger emphasis) or unstressed (weaker emphasis). For example, the word remark consists of two syllables. “Re” is the unstressed syllable, with a weaker emphasis, while “mark” is stressed, with a stronger emphasis.

In poetry, a group of two or three syllables is referred to as a foot. A specific type of foot is an iamb. A foot is an iamb if it consists of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, so the word remark is an iamb.

Pent means five, so a line of iambic pentameter consists of five iambs – five sets of unstressed syllables followed by stressed syllables.

Why do you think William Shakespeare’s plays are still very popular today, 401 years after he lived (26th April 1564 – 23rd April 1616) Each line consists of an Iambic Pentameter:

  • But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
  • It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. (William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet)
  • Her vestal livery is but sick and green
  • And none but fools do wear it; cast it off. (Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet)
  • And I do love thee: therefore, go with me;
  • I’ll give thee fairies to attend on thee,
  • And they shall fetch thee jewels from the deep,
  • And sing while thou on pressed flowers dost sleep; (Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
  • Now is the winter of our discontent
  • Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
  • And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
  • In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.  (Shakespeare, Richard III)
  • Henceforth be earls, the first that ever Scotland
  • In such an honour named. What’s more to do,
  • Which would be planted newly with the time,
  • As calling home our exiled friends abroad
  • That fled the snares of watchful tyranny;
  • Producing forth the cruel ministers
  • Of this dead butcher and his fiend-like queen,
  • Who, as ’tis thought, by self and violent hands
  • Took off her life; this, and what needful else
  • That calls upon us, by the grace of Grace,
  • We will perform in measure, time and place:
  • So, thanks to all at once and to each one,
  • Whom we invite to see us crown’d at Scone. (Shakespeare, Macbeth)
  • O that this too too solid flesh would melt,
  • Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!
  • Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d
  • His canon ’gainst self-slaughter! O God! O God! (Shakespeare, Hamlet)
  • Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
  • Who is already sick and pale with grief,
  • That thou her maid art far more fair than she:
  • Be not her maid, since she is envious; (Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet)

They all sound very beautiful and comply with the Iambic Pentameter. One that is a little awkward is:

  • To be or not to be, that is the question. (Shakespeare, Hamlet)

Clearly it is very famous, but it doesn’t sound just right, does it? Why? It’s because there are eleven syllables. Just one too many, and throws off the rhythm. In Macbeth, Shakespeare used the Iambic Pentameter the opposite way round to make it feel uncomfortable when the witches spoke. Stressed syllable, then unstressed syllable.

  • Double double toil and trouble fire burn and caldron bubble.

So, the correct rhythm in text is important and can lead to someone wanting to read more.

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